Another bonus update, as holy crap things are happening on the ground. Just in the last 24 hours, I wrote about weird stuff happening in Izyum and bridges around Kherson getting blasted, and Mark followed up with Russia’s suddenly precarious position in that region. Things haven’t let up today.
To recap, after months of throwing their best Wagner mercenaries at a power plant in Vuhlehirs'ka, Russia finally closed a Ukrainian salient southeast of Bakhmut, in southeastern Donbas:
That was Russia’s sole advance in three weeks. They’re like so proud!
Now let’s see what Ukraine has been up to. Let’s start up around Izyum, where yesterday I marveled at confirmation that Russia had pulled its forces from a key supply river crossing (Studenok and Yaremivka) supporting offensive operations in the approach toward the twin fortress cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
Today we find out that Russia hasn’t just retreated, but Ukraine has moved its forces right up to the river at Pasika, next door to Yaremivka.
Now, General Staff never announced the recapture of Pasika. You have to crack the code. We’ve discussed Ukraine’s code before:
“Enemy shelled X” or “The enemy fired at our positions in X” means Ukraine controls X. “Enemy tried to advance in the direction of X” means all the towns behind X are in Russian hands. Ukraine’s General Staff will never actually announce the loss of a town, they’ll just report Russia’s new advances beyond that town.
Saying “In the area of the settlement of Pasika, a reconnaissance group tried to expose the positions of our troops” is actually far more clear than their usual announcements. Ukrainian troops are currently in Pasika. Now check this out:
Russia has been beating its head against Bohorodychne for months. As recently as Monday, Ukraine announced it had repelled an assault on the village. Yet now we know that Ukrainian forces are behind Bohorodychne, and sitting on its now-severed supply lines.
That means map drawers will have to reconfigure that entire front line back around 5-8 kilometers, and we don’t know how wide that penetration is. Did Ukraine push up from Bohorodychne itself, or did they come from the direction of Dovhen’ke? In fact, what’s going on in Dovhen’ke? Would be hilarious if Russia lost that plot of land that cost them untold lives and equipment to capture.
So already, right there, Ukraine has captured more land in 1-2 days than Russia did in three weeks. Of course, none of this is of particular strategic value, which lends me to believe that this is not so much a counteroffensive, as it is Ukraine walking into territory that Russia has abandoned. By all reports, from all sides, Russian forces looted Studenok and Yaremivka before hauling off with their goods. They weren’t pushed out. It seems unlikely that somehow Russian forces stuck around in Pasika as well. The whole approach has probably been abandoned.
But are we talking just this river crossing approach? Or is Russia rethinking the whole Izyum approach? Rumors are that Russia is hollowing out Izyum to reinforce Kherson, but zero actual evidence.
Today, Russia launched a direct assault on the Ukrainian stronghold city of Adviika in southeastern Donbas. This smoldering wreckage of a town is adjacent to Donetsk city, which Russia has occupied since 2014, and has resisted everything Russia has thrown at it for eight years. War criminal Igor Girkin, the guy who led the Donbas forces in 2014 and is now a fierce critic of Russia’s war (from the nationalist side, not from a peace-living side) is livid.
To summarize, he believes Ukraine is making real inroads in Kherson, so why would Russia bash their heads against the Avdiivka brick wall, which has multiple lines of defense. Regardless Russia’s wisdom or lack thereof, the town and its defenses are currently getting pounded hard (see here and here). If Russia is experiencing a shortage of artillery shells, they’ve decided to concentrate them all here. For Avdiivka, this is nothing new. Here we are in 2020:
So maybe Izyum-based forces are being rushed here, or maybe down to Kherson, or maybe nowhere at all! The fog of war sure is fun.
Speaking of Kherson, Ukraine is pairing bridge-busting with new territorial advances, expanding their bridgehead on the Russian side of the Inhulets river at Andriyivka and Lozove. It’s only two settlements, but given that this bridgehead was considered dead a few weeks ago, the fact that it’s still there and expanding (thus well-supplied) is a good sign.
Russia is in a bind. With the Antonovsky bridge near Kherson now out of commission, supplies will have to be routed around Nova Kakhovka, a 90 km round trip, but bridges into Kherson from that direction have already been targeted and damaged, and will be cut if they haven’t been already. DefMon did some calculations on how much Russian forces in Kherson consume. Assuming 15 full-strength Russian BTGs, his calculations arrived at either 225 trucks per day, or four barges.
At around 1 kilometer wide, the Dnipro can’t be bridged with pontoons, so Russia is running a ferry service using those four large barges.
As you can see above, those barges won't be around long, and in any case, are a terrible way to resupply Kherson. Queue lines on both sides will present yummy HIMARS and Excalibur long-range precision guided 155 mm munition targets. And when Russia’s artillery guns run out of ammo, that’s their entire game. They’ve got nothing else left.
If those Izyum forces are being repositioned to Kherson, well, they’re too late. Nova Kakhovka would make more sense, as Russia will want to guard its precious water supply to Crimea. But … that just makes my “cut off that whole chunk of territory off” scenario even more attractive. Melitopol-Nova Kakhovka are easy to isolate from both Crimea and the east. Any Russian forces rushing to that region may end up finding themselves in a trap.
Over the weekend, one OSINT guy on Twitter posted rumors that Russian Rosgvardia (Putin’s personal national guard) were abandoning the city and its checkpoints, posting several pictures of the supposedly abandoned posts.
Today, we’re seeing pictures of Russian troops heading south in Crimea. And not just any troops. Despite what the caption says, those are “elite” VDV paratroopers, which we know were manning the Kherson defense. (Ignore him saying it’s Rosgvardia, he was subsequently corrected. They are VDV.)
Maybe they’re getting the hell out of dodge before they’re fully surrounded, leaving sucker cannon fodder from Donbas to man Kherson’s defense. Or maybe they’re moving as part of a regular troop rotation. So many unanswered questions!
In any case, things are starting to pick up as Ukraine telegraphs urgency in retaking Kherson—publicly because of weather (fall rains are coming), but really because few trust Europeans to hold the line when the weather turns cold and Russia uses gas to blackmail the continent.
From Ukrainian General Staff’s morning report:
In the Slovyansk direction, with the aim of finding weak points in the defense of our units, the occupiers conducted assaults in the Dovhenke – Mazanivka and Pasika – Dolyna directions, without success.
Artillery shelling was noted in the areas of Andriivka, Nortsivka, Bohorodychne,
So Russia is still holding Dovhen’ke, and trying to push south east from there (in the direction of Slovyansk). Also, they now say Russian troops are in Pasika, which means Ukrainian troops have retreated from that position and the advance hasn’t been abandoned by Russia.
It’s too late for me to figure out whether this has rendered the bulk of this update moot.